This week’s Longer Read is Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kastner and the version I have here is by Vintage Classics. This edition was translated from the German by Eileen Hall and illustrated by Walter Trier.
What it’s about:
Email is excited to be taking the train on his own but he doesn’t like the look of his fellow passenger: a man in a bowler hat. Emil vows to keep his wits about him and pins his money in his pocket for safekeeping but falls asleep and, when he wakes up, his money is gone, and so is the man. Emil is determined to get it back and teams up with a group of young detectives in Berlin to catch the rotten thief!
I’ve been meaning to read this story for a long time and, having just powered through it, I wondered why it has taken me so long! It’s got all the ingredients that I love in a children’s classic: engaging, funny characters; a mystery to solve; and children who happen to outsmart the adults. Emil is a lovely character – he’s respectful (but not too much to alienate the child reader – he does do something rather mischievous to the statue of the local police chief), he’s honest and he’s brave. There is intrigue in the story but nothing frightening – at no point are the children in any real danger. His family, while proud of Emil, do not let him get above himself! They insist – as does he – on him remaining humble. There’s also a cameo appearance by the author in the book, which was a delightful surprise!
There is a lot of Erich Kastner in the character of Emil. Both are only children, raised by their mothers, who worked hard to give them a good childhood. Kastner served in the German Army in WWI and came away from the experience with a profound anti-war and anti-violence sentiment. Unfortunately, when the Nazis came to power, his writings were deemed ‘anti-German’ and Joseph Goebbels ordered that his books be burned ‘In the name of the fight against decadence and moral corruption’.
Thankfully we still have copies to publish nowadays, so Kastner’s writing lives on. I really hope the children will be inspired to borrow this book and that they will enjoy it as much as I have.